HIS303: A CULTURAL HISTORY OF DEATH
Last Offered: 2020 Term 3.
Next Offered: 2021 Term 3. Day and time to be determined. Eight consecutive sessions per Term. First class meets the week beginning Monday 2 August 2021.
Location: Hamilton, or on-line distance learning.
Sex used to be the great taboo. Up until the modern era, open talk related to the subject of sexuality was actively frowned upon. The subject of death, however was freely canvased. This situation has now been reversed. Death has become for modern men and women the new taboo, spoken of in hushed terms, if at all, kept concealed behind closed doors and largely unacknowledged.
However, recently this trend has been challenged. More and more people are wanting to speak openly about the subject of death. Indeed so pressing has become the need, that within the last few years a new ‘strange’ global phenomena has occurred that has seen the emergence of what are called “Death Cafes.” These “cafes” are simply pop-up meeting places where small groups of people gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss the topic of death. Death has at last come out of the closet.
This series of eight talks, from our Selected Topics in History series, explores, historically, the subject of death from the perspective of several different disciplines: religion (both traditional and contemporary), philosophy, art, literature, music and film.
Week 1: Introduction–Overview and sociological perspective: What social/political/intellectual factors were and are at play that have moulded our relation to the topic of death. Historically, how has religion evolved and provided comfort in response to death. We will examine historically examples from Neanderthal man up to and including Christian thinking and everything in between.
Week 2: Contemporary theological thought: Why has there come about a shift in religious thinking in the modern age with regard to death. What has happened to Heaven and Hell? The liberal/Fundamentalist culture wars.
Week 3: Western Philosophical Traditions of Death: An examination of the western philosophical tradition beginning with Socrates and ending in the postmodern era with thinkers like Richard Rorty and Jacque Derrida. Why have philosophers gone quiet on the subject of mortality?
Week 4: Art and Death: A look at how art has represented death over the millenniums, beginning with cave art and tracing its history through all the permutations that take in Michelangelo, Munch, Picasso, Dali and Damien Hurst and many others with their various and different depictions and reactions to death.
Week 5: Literature and Death: Beginning with the oldest piece of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh, we trace the story of how authors have confronted death. Among many works, we will be looking at The Egyptian Book of the Dead, Homer’s Odyssey, the book of Ecclesiastes, the Bhagavad Gita, Plato’s Phaedo, Virgil’s Aeneid, the New Testament, Dante’s Divine Comedy, along with authors such as Shakespeare, Blake, Wordsworth, Arnold, Tolstoy, Hardy, Joyce, Faulkner, Camus, Beckett, DeLillo, Crace, Robinson, Roth and Max Porter. What light do such a diverse range of writers shed on the topic of death?
Week 6: Music and Death: Music over the centuries has played a large part in expressing an emotional response to the experience of death. This lecture will explore various musical genres from classical to pop, from Beethoven, Shostakovich to Bob Dylan, from Jazz to Blues and Rock in order to track not only the changing forms of musical expression, but also the shifts in belief reflected in the music.
Week 7: Film and Death: One of the most important cultural influences of the last century would be the advent of film. Beginning with the movie The Phantom Carriage (1921), we will explore this media in order to see how directors have tackled the subject of death and how that has changed over the decades. Included in our examination will be Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, Vincent Ward’s What Dreams May Come, and Roy Anderson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, among others.
Week 8: Course Summary: A summation of things. What is there left over in our somewhat denuded secular culture to help deal with the tragic? Has the rot set completely in? Can other cultural perspectives add value – Buddhist, Hindu, Māori, neo-pagan, New Age? The return to the stoic virtues.
Prerequisites: There are no prerequisites for this course.
Distance Learning: This course has distance-learning options for those unable to attend the live class sessions in Hamilton. Students have three options for attending our courses once they have registered:
- attend in-person classes in our Hamilton classrooms at the regularly scheduled day and time,
- attend our live on-line classroom sessions via Zoom at the regular scheduled day and time,
- watch the live-recorded class sessions at your leisure, at a time, day and place more suited to your schedule.
These options can be mixed and matched throughout the course to suit your own availability and location.
Peter Dornauf (MA, Dip Tchg) has taught in secondary schools, Wintec and Waikato University collectively for over 25 years. He is a well know Waikato artist, art critic and a writer of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. His book “Days of Our Deaths” serves as the basis for this series of lectures.
In addition to our in-person classes in Hamilton, our courses offer distance learning options for those unable to attend classes in-person. Live-streamed Hamilton classes are available via free Zoom software for those living outside the Waikato. Live-streaming allows you to participate fully in your own learning, ask questions of the instructor and participate fully in the same way as if you were in the physical classroom.
Those unable to attend the scheduled date and time of the actual class sessions, or those who need to miss a class or two due to previous engagements or unexpected illness, can watch any or all of the live-recorded video sessions on their computers, laptops, tablets or mobile devices and study at their own pace and in their own time.
Detailed instructions on how to access our distance learning components will be sent after completing your registration. There are no additional fees for this service. However, distance learners will need access to a desktop or laptop computer with a good quality web-camera (tablet devices and mobile phones can also access our live-streamed classes), a built-in microphone (most modern laptops have built-in microphones) or a headset with a microphone. You will also need to download and install the free Zoom software on your computer or device. Those accessing the video recordings will be able to do so with a simple web browser on any device.
- Detailed Syllabi are available at the start of each Term.
- Any Term can be taken independently of the others, and there are no prerequisites for any of the Term courses.
- This class has no assignments, required readings, quizzes, tests or exams.
- All classes encourage questions and group discussion.
- PDF copies of each class presentation are emailed to all participants the next day so that you are free to focus on class content rather than taking notes. You are most welcome to come, sit back, relax, take part in and enjoy the discussions!
- Course fees include a short tea/coffee/snack break in the middle of each session.
- There are no refunds for missed classes.
- Guests of registered participants are welcome to attend a single class at no charge.
- Certificates of Completion for any particular Term Course or Series are available for Professional Development purposes upon request at the end of each Term or Series.
Cost per person per Term (8 classes):
- Waged: $105 (includes online registration fee)
- Unwaged (unemployed, students, seniors): $85 (includes online registration fee)
Prices for Waged and Unwaged registrants remain the same regardless of your chosen method for accessing our courses. This means that you have the option to mix and match access between attending our regularly-scheduled live class sessions in our Hamilton classrooms, accessing our live class sessions on-line via Zoom at the regularly scheduled class meeting time (no matter where you are located), or watching the video-recorded sessions anywhere at a time and date of your choosing. This allows you to study at your own pace and in your own time.
Once registered, you have three choices for attending your course:
- attend our in-person class sessions in our Hamilton classrooms,
- Zoom in to our live classroom sessions and participate in discussions,
- access the live-recorded class sessions each week. This allows you to register for an entire course, even though the scheduled class session day/time may not be suitable to your schedule. You may also use this option to watch any recorded session for review, or in case you may miss a class session due to prior engagement, being away, or due to illness. This allows you to catch up with any “missed” sessions at a more suitable time.
Once registered, you will receive detailed instructions on how to access our courses via either of the distance-learning options, i.e. live access via Zoom, or watching the video-recorded sessions.
LOCATION: This course is held at Artmakers Trust, Norris Ward Park Arts Centre, 2 Seddon Road, Hamilton, located on the corner of Ward Street and Seddon Road in downtown Hamilton. The carpark entrance is off Seddon Road at the back of Norris Ward Park. Our classrooms are immediately to the left of the Waikato Society of Potters studio and to the right of the Community Men’s Shed. There is plenty of free parking available in the carpark just outside the classroom. Bikes are also welcomed!
DISTANCE LEARNING: You get to choose your location when you Zoom in to our live classroom sessions, or access our classes at your leisure and at a time and day of your choosing by watching the video recorded sessions from each class. This allows you to study at your own pace.
“A Cultural History of Death” has helped me answer many questions. Having been brought up in a Christian family and gone to a Christian school in Kenya, a big part of me is religious. However, I have questioned a lot about life after death and Heaven. Death is not new to me because from an early age I have experienced the deaths of my siblings and some really close relatives. My father’s death is what changed my life completely as I started questioning why my father had to die so young while he did everything right as per the teachings of God. After my father‘s death I have looked at death differently and this course has helped me understand and put a lot of things into perspective. It has also helped me understand how one can transition peacefully. I have also been able to relate with all the conversations I had with my Mum and grandfather before they died.” —Amondi Ouko-Mowbray (Tauranga, Jan 2021)